Fire & Life Safety

Planning With Purpose

When there is a need to evacuate a building, all model codes and standards require plans be in place for individuals with disabilities to safely evacuate. Disabilities may affect a person’s ability to evacuate quickly and safely in an emergency. Planning is therefore necessary to ensure the safety of any person who may require assistance to evacuate or who, while evacuating slowly, may be at risk from the flow of other individuals evacuating.

Planning is also necessary to ensure the safety of individuals providing assistance to ensure that the flow of those evacuating is not impeded. In addition to people with mobility disabilities, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) are required for those with hearing or visual disabilities, cognitive or psychological disabilities and individuals or groups with any other condition — permanent or temporary — that may require extra efforts to quickly and safely evacuate.

PEEPs can consist of simply providing information related to areas of refuge to individuals not capable of using stairs to training care providers with needed training to assist with evacuation or to determine when equipment such as a stair chair is necessary to complete evacuation. How to determine when an individual needs a PEEP will rest with several offices. Human resources, accommodation offices, building managers, department heads and classroom leaders all may be the first point of contact with an individual in need of a PEEP. Individuals may also present themselves to request a plan for any facilities they may find themselves in.

Each individual potentially requiring a PEEP should complete a brief survey to determine buildings they occupy regularly and what type of disability they have. If the survey response indicates there is a need to provide an accommodation, a meeting should be arranged. Staff from facilities, emergency management and safety as well as other departments involved with disability services can then review and discuss the individuals needs and develop an emergency evacuation plan strategy. This meeting should take into consideration the individuals suggestions and needs making necessary adjustments based on the individual.

The person with the disability can then be provided with information and training necessary to complete the PEEP. Key components of each PEEP must be determined to be reliable and practical. For example, if an evacuation chair is to be used, the person must be able to safely transfer to it and there must always be a team of trained people available at all times to assist with use.

PEEPs will require training and proof of competence. For fire alarm scenarios, information, instruction and training must include:

  • fire risk assessment and fire safety awareness;
  • fire emergency response information;
  • disability awareness;
  • fire emergency plan; and
  • general policy and procedures knowledge for equipment (ex: evacuation chair).

Facilities staff can identify many building features related to emergency evacuation paths prior to a request or need to create a PEEP. There are roughly 30 different evacuation arrangements or methods to consider when creating a PEEP. Facilities should have an inventory of the physical barriers such as stairwells as well as tactile maps to help individuals determine their location. Facilities should also have information related to alarm strobes, voice annunciation or vibration equipment to alert individuals that there is a need to evacuate. The more information facilities has related to building features and what additional modifications can be made to each building or system the easier it will be to quickly create a PEEP.

Once the team has met and created a PEEP, the plan should be delivered in writing to the individual as well as legal counsel for review and acceptance. The plan should contain the following information:

  • name of individual;
  • building(s) the plan is applicable to;
  • floor(s) the plan is applicable to;
  • room(s) the plan is applicable to;
  • dates the plan is in effect for;
  • names of individuals designated to assist;
  • contact information for all individuals listed in the plan;
  • type of assistance individuals have been trained to provide;
  • a map or inventory of all equipment provided to assist with evacuation;
  • procedures to follow when evacuating;
  • a map or written description of safe routes to evacuate and be accounted for; and
  • signature line for all parties.

Creating PEEPs for all individuals in your buildings will ensure their safety as well as reduce the legal and public relations risk you could face in your facilities without a plan. PEEPS will also ensure that everyone is evacuated smoothly, without anyone being impeded in their efforts to reach a safe place.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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